14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 9 June 2019 — In a city where basic products are scarce, thinking about buying a sex toy, never mind the taboo, can be a real odyssey. In Cuba there are no stores “for adults” and XXX cinema is viewed with suspicion or persecuted by the authorities.
A group of artists wanted to break with the canons of a society that rejected “bourgeois morality” in the ’60s but that keeps intact the puritanisms and taboos of that era. Consolez Vous — the name is French and means roughly ’Console Yourself’ — is the project of the artists Yanahara Mauri, Javier Alejandro Bobadilla and Joan Díaz, who during the last Biennial of Havana stormed the Cuban Art Factory with the provocative idea of installing a sex shop. Their pieces are now exhibited at La Marca, as part of the Design Biennial, convened and organized by the National Design Office.
“Everything started as a project of the Biennial, we presented it and they accepted it. Although the initial idea was not to participate in the Biennial, this work began much earlier, with the project of establishing a store,” says Bobadilla in an interview with 14ymedio.
For the artist, the important thing is not the objects themselves, but “the gesture of openly and publicly” establishing a sex shop in Cuba. “I was very skeptical, I have always been pessimistic and I did not think that it would be approved for the Biennial but, well, they accepted it, like magic,” he says.
The original idea was to establish a traveling store. “We wanted to go to the opening of the art shows and set up the store there or park a couple of days at the fairs where they sell handicrafts, shoes, wallets and sell there, near the town,” he explains. The authorities did not accept this proposal and placed the proposal in the Art Factory, a place where thousands of people enter daily.
“These erotic objects are all transparent, they have messages and things inside, apart from the mixtures of colors. We prepare the right environment to make them look better and be more appealing. We put up banners, we set up like a boutique. Every day that the Factory opened, we were going to sell, from Thursday to Sunday, “explains Bobadilla, a cybernetic professional.
To make the pieces, they use polyester resin. “The material is liquid, it looks like honey, then you put another substance that hardens it. We give it a form using condoms, which are difficult to obtain, because they are missing from pharmacies,” he adds.
We have toys of different sizes and colors, some are smooth but there are others that have curves. In the shop some complained that the objects “do not vibrate” or that “they are very hard.” Others asked that silicone be used instead of resin.
Customs prohibits “natural persons” (individuals) from importing goods, and self-employed people do not have the legal standing to do so. “What else would I like. With a silicone tank and a 3D printer there is much we can produce, but, although we want to promote the industry, we have the ’internal blockade.’ This business in Cuba is very complicated,” he laments.
In the absence of places licensed for the sale of sex items, an illegal market has developed in the country. A sex toy costs between 20 and 60 CUC. Sex shops in Cuban exist clandestinely in private homes with products arriving in the country in the baggage of the so-called ’mules’ — individuals who bring items through customs.
The Consolez Vous artistic project ran throughout the month of April and the first week of May at the Art Factory, at which point the institution abruptly closed. The artists sometimes wandered away from their small space with erotic objects in hand to provoke potential customers and although some walked away embarrassed, others entered to look.
“Some people buy it for decoration, in the end this is art. If someone asks me if I’m selling dildos will tell him no, that what I sell are sculptures, what they used after they leave the store is someone else’s problem,” says Bobadilla.
Although at first the idea was to give away the objects, the high price of the raw material forced the artists to sell their work. Each sexual object is sold at 5 CUC (roughly 5 dollars). The price barely covers the investment, but it is part of the purpose of the display: “For these objects to be within reach of people’s wallets,” he adds.
The artists want the Cuban public to change their perception of sexual objects. “In some cases couples came into the store together. Others preferred to leave their wife or husband outside. Many were laughing at the entrance without daring to pass. We always provoke people and hawk the goods, like in agriculture,” he adds.
“For the Biennial we made 500 toys and we only have one small box left in Matanzas. We have sold more than 400,” says Bobadilla proudly, dreaming of having his own shop in the Art Factory.
“The difference between the toys that come from abroad and ours is that what we offer to the Cuban public, in addition to costing a lot less, is art,” he emphasizes. “Art made in Cuba.”
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